Thursday, April 12, 2012 | 7:36 p.m.
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A prescription for certain death: In your hand, an emptying bottle of premium cognac. In your arm, the steady drip of morphine. You’ve just taken cocaine to get high and swallowed Cialis pills readying for the arrival of no less than seven hookers. “That’s when I realized it wasn’t just demons -- it was the devil himself,” Mike Tyson told me. “It was the lowest point of a very low life, but it was my own knockout punch to clean up life, get whole, get well -- and I haven’t done anything in three years now. I’m clean. I’m sober.”
It’s just 24 hours to curtain up on Friday’s premiere of Mike’s one-man “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth -- Live on Stage” in the Hollywood Theater at MGM Grand. In his own words, Iron Mike tells the troubled and tumultuous story of his journey from Brooklyn -- born to a prostitute and a pimp -- to wealth in the boxing world, earning untold millions as world heavyweight champion, to a 10-year jail sentence for rape, imprisoned in a mental hospital and finally to poverty: “I was totally broke and destitute.”
The boxing champion, who was the only heavyweight and the first to hold the WBA, WBC and IBF titles simultaneously and earned an astounding $300 million in winnings, admitted: “My whole life was wasted. I was forced to live paycheck to paycheck.”
Now this weekend, a glittering lineup of stars, VIPs and Hollywood power players will watch him go to work yet again: Floyd Mayweather Jr., George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, 50 Cent, Al B Sure, Andrew Dice Clay, Melissa Manchester, Brian McKnight, George Lopez, Joe Jackson, Joe Francis, Paula Abdul, Piers Morgan, Roseanne Barr, Rosie O’Donnell, Tai Babilonia, Jeff Wald, Human Nature, Frank Marino, Kody Brown and, yes, even Evander Holyfield.
It was on June 28, 1997, that their fight ended at MGM Grand with Mike’s disqualification for biting Evander’s ears twice -- with a piece of his right lobe found on the ring floor afterward. “I’ll tell the truth about it,” Mike promised, “and how afterward I was committed to a psychiatric ward in a mental hospital in a room with patients in strait-jackets.”
I’d expected Mike to be pacing like a caged animal -- nervous and frantic -- as the load-in began at MGM Grand. Instead, he was remarkably at peace, confident and comfortable as we listened to his six-piece band the Contenders and a solo female backup singer at his final rehearsals.
You can still see the eye of the tiger glint. You can shake hands with those giant fists. You can see how quickly he can boom louder than life. His storytelling is mesmerizing. His crude candor is stunning, and his revelations are jaw-droppingly shocking. And you will be amazed and marvel at the man who once upon a time couldn’t read or write as to how he waxes philosophically and provides life lessons for the most troubled of dysfunctional souls.
Randy Johnson directs this experiment in reality drama for Las Vegas producer Adam Steck. “The story-outline script is still 80 percent of what Mike’s wife Kiki brought to me when I sought them out coincidentally to see if he wanted to do a live, one-man show,” Adam told me.
If Mike’s lengthy conversation with me is even halfway to the honesty he will share onstage this weekend and next week, his show will be a major surprise hit and likely continue to Broadway and wind up as a TV documentary. Mike’s no-hold’s-barred tell-all is brutally brilliant, as you can tell from our talk.
Robin Leach: So, Mike, here we are 24 hours before curtain up. Any nerves?
Mike Tyson: Yes, nerves that it’s not here fast enough. I just want to do this. I’m really nervous, and I have butterflies, but I’ve always wanted to do this. I’ve always wanted to be in the entertainment business in this kind of magnitude, like a stage show.
RL: Do you have fears of Friday night, or are you confident about it?
MT: I’m clearly comfortable, but I’ll always have doubts. That’s the only way I can ascend to any importance is to have doubt. Without doubt I’ll make mistakes, and I’ll be conscious of my mistakes. And the best mistakes are the ones you are not conscious of because you don’t have to handle them right away. That’s when people are totally at their peak, when they can make a mistake, and even their mistakes look good.
RL: You are now as I said 24 hours out. How has the rehearsal process gone for you?
MT: Everything has been going along great, but the only thing that matters is all about generating what happens in rehearsals and putting it onstage. We all know it’s good to have good days and people saying to help your confidence, “Wow, the rehearsals are going well,” but it’s a different animal when you are out there and, boom, lights, camera, action. Totally different, a totally different emotional animal out there, the energy out there. I don’t know, I just want to transcend and be better than what I am capable of being.
RL: You’ve said that there is no script, but there is a storyline?
MT: It is pretty much a dynamic collection of stories that people know about but don’t know the underlying story. Like Robin Givens and I continued to see each other while going through our divorce and separation and ridiculous things like that. Like me not knowing how to handle love and that’s what the whole thing is about. The whole world was involved in my little marriage. We were both too young and stupid to be married in the first place, and it’s just, wow, I never came back from something like that. From that moment on, it is possible to experience the dark side of love, which is betrayal, so that’s pretty dark. The dark side of love is pretty dark.
RL: I look at your life, and you’ve had so many lives. Do you compartmentalize it, or do you just let one flow into the other?
MT: No, it’s weird, you know sometimes I wonder, “Do some celebrities think they are really special sometimes?” This is not normal stuff, who am I, why is this not happening to everybody? You know, even there are people that we look to and say these guys are real, yeah listen, this is what I know deep in my heart. You know these reality TV guys, these big stars, reality TV, the people, the ugly guys, like real actors and real athletes don’t consider them truly successful. They’re successful, but they’re not entertainers. They’re not at the creme de la creme level, like when you say Judy Garland. She had a miserable life, but when you talk about her profession, she’s the cream of the crop. It’s not that she’s a fighter, but she still had that fighter spirit. You want to compete? She raised the level when it came to competing.
You know that was just awesome, I knew she was the different one. Even though her life wasn’t like her career, I knew she was very special. These people can only destroy themselves because they are so big, nothing else can touch them, so the only way to touch them is themselves. I know from watching people like that that tearing yourself down is just as much powerful as building yourself up, so when you reach that crescendo or peak of success, some people may go crazy.
RL: Mike, do you absolutely bare your soul in this, you’ve held nothing back? What’s the one thing in the show that affects you the most in the telling of the story?
MT: I didn’t know my life was cursed. This is really interesting, Robin, and I never have told people this. I may have to tell it in the show because I came to Bob Stewart and then Cus D’Amato with such a low self-esteem. I was 13 and in a juvenile hall. But, all the sudden, this something that I never had before. Now I had an ego, I had pride, I had self-esteem. You know what I mean? They gave me tools like envy, jealousy, competition, die-hard fighting to the end, don’t refuse to lose, competitiveness, skullduggery. I was armed with a conglomerate of weapons, I was just a kid, and I was just so lucky that everything prevailed, you know?
RL: And the story that you’re happiest of telling?
MT: I'm happy telling the whole story.
RL: No hold’s barred.
MT: Yeah, it’s being naked out there. Maybe it’s some form of self-examination. A catharsis. You can’t have secrets in life. Our secrets are what imprison us. Our secrets make us sometimes not like ourselves. If I had secrets, I could never have my family or my children. I don’t care how much you love somebody, when you have secrets, it’s not going to work. It just won’t work when you have lies and secrets with someone you love, it just doesn’t work. Some people stay married for 25 years, but it just doesn’t work with them for some reason. You can tell when the secrets, it’s just lies, are really bad.
RL: Was this the best way to tell your story?
MT: No, no, I could have done a book deal, or I could have done it from a movie’s perspective, but you know what it really is, Robin, I just like being onstage. I hate to think that I’m a prima donna because the prima donna and who I am don’t go -- I just like to be involved in that part of the world. I did a lot of studying on stage acting and thought it was pretty, it’s more liberating than movie cameras because it’s live. I felt liberated. I don’t know, maybe subconsciously I feel like a coward and I’m always doing something to expose myself to feel like I’m not. It’s funny, I believe all people feel like they are cowards because in order to be courageous, you have to show fear, right, wouldn’t you say?
So I think we all have some form of cowardice in us, but it’s just a horrible thing to admit. It’s worse than being an atheist, to be a coward. When people say, “Oh my god, I’d rather be a fan of an atheist than a coward. I mean my atheist friends have been coming to battle with me, and I know they will at least fight, even though they don’t believe in God, they will fight for a friend, but a coward won’t fight for a friend. There is no way. All men have to experience that, and how we deal with it and how we explain it to ourselves instead of other people, how we explain it to ourselves is the big question.
RL: Do you look at this as a journey from darkness to light, a journey from dark clouds to sunshine?
MT: I don’t know. My life is a lie. All the stuff I believed in the past wasn’t true. I’m not superior of other people because of my skills. I’m just a student in the art of fighting, and I just took it to a maniac state. I’m going to be in the ring, and they are not going to know my name, and I’m going to kill somebody. It’s going to shake heaven, and the great warriors will listen to me and I wake up. This is the stuff I believed as a kid. I probably ascended from the great warriors because I’m beating these guys. This is really what I thought because I really had nothing else.
Cus has been in the fighting business for 60 years, and that’s all that he knows how to do, to teach young boys who are afraid of themselves and that are weak and to turn them into world-beaters. I was just happy, it made me feel like a part of a family when I made him happy. My job in life is to make him happy, and he liked me to hurt people in the ring so spectacularly, like art. He liked me to do it as if it was art, so that is what I did, and if that is all I had to do, I did that for free in the streets, so, if that is all I had to do to make this man happy, I love and respect this man so much, so be it.
RL: When did your life change from being a lie to the truth?
MT: Three years ago. I just wasn’t feeling good. I wanted to change. I wanted to stop getting high. I stopped it. A lot of people are great influences for me. Going to rehab did so much more for me than stopping me from getting high. It just gave me a purpose in life, try to attempt something in life, it made me push myself. For some people, it doesn’t help, it has to be certain individuals, but rehab made me push myself. It made me believe that I’m not the person that I thought I was and that I had to change the pictures of what was going on in my head.
A lot of people have the same picture going on, playing the same show, you have to turn. It’s not as easy as I say, either, but we have to change the pictures in our head. Some of us want to believe we are world-beaters and we are the baddest man on the planet, but that doesn’t exist. I was just a kid living fantasies. That is probably why I did well, because I was just a kid, I was just a blank mind.
RL: Are you at the happiest you have ever been now?
MT: I just don’t want it to stop, that's all. I just want it to stay the way it is. I don’t want it to stop. I am happy that I can just be with my wife, I never thought that I could live with somebody at one time, I never anticipated it, I never anticipated living for a long time.
I can’t believe I'm going to have a show at this place, this is cool, I’m on the Strip, man. This is really cool. I always had a lot of friends, when I was ready to act like I was ready to live my life like a normal human being and be a respectable person in society; people were ready to help me become that.
Check back Friday for Part 2 of my riveting talk with Mike.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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